I can still remember my first experience in organized sports, freshman basketball. We had a wonderful coach, Mr. Orr, who left a lasting impression on my thinking and teaching. Coach Orr had an uncanny ability to motivate us and get the team to overachieve by demonstrating basic skills (shooting, dribbling, and passing). He provided constant feedback that was specifi c, so that we could continue to build skills and develop as team players. Coach Orr expected our team to achieve at a high level, and we did. Our successes were celebrated, no matter how small, which brought us together as a team and motivated us to work harder.
The most memorable lessons were the drills to build stamina; “killers” we fondly named them. We would begin and end practice with forty-eight ticks on the scoreboard clock. The team had to complete a series of sprints in this amount of time or challenge ourselves again. These sprints were designed to help us build stamina, developing endurance for our ultimate test, game day. Thinking back now, practice moved at a brisk pace, and most skillbuilding drills were completed in a short period of time. This was done to keep us focused on the skill and use time efficiently so that we could scrimmage and become automatic with the skills while playing basketball.
When I think about planning for fluency instruction, the structure of basketball practice influences my thinking. I work with my students in short bursts of learning, consolidating skills and strategies that lead to fluency and building students’ reading and writing stamina. As teachers, we need to plan for short bursts of learning that enable students to build stamina and become fluent readers and writers.
Gayle and I plan for these short bursts of instruction by first thinking about the skill, then which instructional setting (whole class, small group, or individual) will allow our students to learn and practice this skill. Automaticity with word recognition, spelling, and writing on demand are areas of instruction we target during short, focused lessons. The skills learned during these sessions allow our students to read for extended periods of time during reading workshop and sustain their writing for long stretches during writing workshop.
When planning for fluency instruction, we look for opportunities to foster students’ automaticity with print, increase their reading rate, and read in meaningful phrased units. Richard Allington (2001, p. 75) reminds us that “providing children access with appropriately leveled texts and a noninterruptive reading environment typically produces profound changes in reading fluency and self-monitoring.”
Of course, there isn’t any right time to teach fluency. Instead, you have to look at your daily schedule and consciously plan for fl uency while seizing teachable moments to stress the importance of fluency instruction. Brief fluency lessons occur during content studies and reading or writing workshops. Prior to these lessons, Gayle and I have informally assessed our students, found a specifi c focus for fluency instruction, and then decided which grouping structure would help us effectively and effi ciently support our students. We have found that working within the context of our thematic studies or workshops allows students to quickly practice skills and then use them for purposeful reading or writing. Gayle and I adopted this thinking after reading Stanovich’s seminal article (1980), “Toward an Interactive-Compensatory Model of Individual Differences in the Development of Reading Fluency.” We want to build fluency skills so that our students can keep pace with their peers, think about the same content, and use most of the workshop time for personal, purposeful reading and writing.
Gayle’s students scatter about the classroom, using the entire space for personal reading during independent reading time. As the students leave the meeting area, Gayle reminds them to use punctuation to guide their voices, a fluency concept she has demonstrated while reading aloud The Other Side.
Some students have been reading quickly, not fluently. They read through punctuation, sometimes getting confused because one idea runs into the next or the intended meaning was altered. This will be the focus for her individual conferences. The small-group work will continue its thread of reading punctuation but will also extend to a word-solving strategy. Gayle wants her students to use repetitive patterns and the local context of the sentence to predict unknown words. She wants them to cue on the fi rst letter(s) as they anticipate the next word, developing automaticity with print.
Gayle will mask a handful of words in the big book, Oh No! (Cairns 1987) She will mask the word spot, a repetitive word in the text. She will reveal the s and p, covering the rest of the word with a sticky note. She will mask this word on pages 4 and 6, knowing that students will have had an opportunity to read and internalize the pattern of this text. She will mask dress on page 10 and place on page 16, allowing students to use the meaning and structure of the text and picture to predict these words. Ellie, John, Seth, Tommy, and Alya will work together with Gayle in this flexible group.
Gayle will begin this short lesson with the students writing five frequent words on wipe-off boards. She wants to build the students speed in knowing these words that appear on the word wall. Then she prompts the group to write the high frequency word see at the top of their wipe-off board, underline the s, and then write words that begin with s. The group generates high frequency words so, saw, and she, copying from the word wall. They also independently come up with sat, sand, sad, set, sit, Seth, and Stephanie. Gayle brings closure to this segment of her lesson by prompting the kids to write seen and seed. The students easily add the final consonants, laughing that they should have remembered these words. The students read the big book with masked words and after about seven minutes, find their own places in the classroom to read independently.
Gayle scans the room noting where individuals and small groups are reading. She spots Sam sitting at a table by himself reading Henry and Mudge in Puddle Trouble. She makes her way over to the table, pulls up a chair alongside him and without asking, he reads orally from the middle of page 19. The text challenges Sam because he wants to read the line of text as a phrase. Gayle says, “Sam I like how you’re reading the line of words together, listen to how I read the idea.” Gayle reads, “One blue petal fell from his mouth into Henry’s hand,” from the book. “You didn’t stop at the end of the line, Mrs. Brand,” Sam comments. Sam reads to the end of the chapter similar to Gayle’s model. He reflects, “I didn’t have to reread so much, it was easier to follow the text.”
Reading workshop ends with students sharing about how they used punctuation to understand their reading. Ellie, Seth, John, Tommy, and Alya share that while reading Oh No! there are red letters and an exclamation point to tell them how to read the line. They think they should be reading them with voices that convey something is wrong, not just excitement. The students move next to word study. The group will work on making words with magnetic letters from the rime, eat.
I will also nurture fluency development by bringing Matt, T.J., Alyssa, and Alex together as a group. I will use shared reading to reading with them the Time for Kids article, “Saving Our National Parks.” I will demonstrate fluent reading by pausing and thinking about big ideas. I will begin by reading the title and subtitles and reading captions while looking at pictures. I will think out loud about what I think this article will teach me.
My reading begins by stating my purpose for reading. My purpose for reading this article is to fi nd out how we can save our national parks. The reason this is my purpose is because I noticed the subtitle, “What Can Be Done.” I record this on the chart and begin reading. I read the article while the group follows along. Students stop me to reread sections or record important information on the chart. I bring closure to the lesson by asking the kids what they noticed. “I need to spend more time looking at what I’m going to read before reading it,” Matt comments. Alyssa reflects, “You read to the end of the sentence before stopping, not the end of the line. I need to look for periods and question marks.” T.J. reports, “I’m going to write a purpose now when I read. This will help me focus on why I’m reading. I won’t stop so much.”
The students join the rest of their classmates, sharing what they learned about national parks and reading fl uently. As a class, we debrief our reading by writing a summary about national parks’ renewable resources. We use shared writing to write this summary. While rereading the summary, we discuss punctuation and fluent reading. The discussion reinforces the day’s fluency thinking.